How to Protect Your Children from Unsuitable Video Games


Video games have technically been around since 1962 when Steve Russell and his team at MIT were gifted a PDP-1 by Digital Equipment Corporation. Russel and a small band of tech geniuses developed Spacewar!, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, video games have become a booming industry despite almost collapsing in on itself in the 1980s. However, games survived and the industry is now worth approximately $135 billion annually on average.

Video game sales from 2019 saw a massive increase because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sales revenue increased from $120 billion to $180 billion and if we were to calculate percentage increase, it comes out at nearly a whopping 50%. The good times are rolling.

But for all their achievements, every now and then video games receive some negative press with arguments over whether they can cause issues such as stunted development, increased violent tendencies or physical disabilities. Most studies have concluded that while there might be some negative physiological links, games are no more harmful than watching TV if their use is controlled while further research might be needed.

Controlled use refers to actively monitoring what your children are playing. For example, there are many violent video games such as the notorious Grand Theft Auto series which, while popular with kids, shouldn’t be on their game machines.

Video games are wonderful creations that combine amazingly talented people from multiple disciplines such as artists, 3D modelers, physics programmers, AI programmers, digital video creators, digital artists and many more.

Video Game Ratings Systems

While there are a lot of violent or mature games out there, it isn’t easy for some parents to know which games are child friendly. The best way to decide on a game is to treat it as you would a movie rental. Movies are clearly labeled with ratings that state their suitability such as “NC-17” for mature audiences or “18” as in the UK which means that by law only people of 18 years or older can purchase that movie.

For almost 25 years video games did not have a rating system in the United States but following the release of Mortal Kombat for the SEGA Genesis, the ESRB system was introduced after complaints from concerned parents over the game’s blood and infamous “Fatalities”; extremely violent finishing moves at the end of a match.

The United Kingdom used to class games under the BBFC regulations but switched to PEGI in 2004. Game ratings in the UK, although governed by law, weren’t taken as seriously as they should have been and a whole legal battle ensued when Rockstar Games’ Manhunt was blamed for a violent act after a teen boy lured and killed his friend with a hammer in 2004. The teen boy owned a copy of Manhunt, however, his mother purchased the game for him and the box was clearly labeled with an 18 certificate.

It is, for this reason, those game ratings should be taken seriously. Whether or not the tragic crime was influenced by the game is subject to opinion as no studies have conclusively found that video games cause kids to be violent, although, just like movies have done, it is believed that they could inspire them to be should violent tendencies already be present.

Video games have ratings as well, and they are similar to movie ratings. The United States uses the ESRB rating system for video games but in the UK the system changed from the legally binding BBFC classification to the European PEGI guidance system which became legally enforceable in 2012. This means that it is illegal to sell or supply the game to any person below the game’s age rating which can result in criminal prosecution.

ESRB has very easily understandable ratings. Recommendations are as follows:

  • Everyone; this content is suitable for all ages and generally contains no violence or mature themes.
  • Everyone 10+; content may not be suitable for those under 10 years and could contain mild violence or moderate language.
  • Teen; content is suitable for those of 13 years and older and might contain moderately strong language, crude humor, blood and violence or mild sex references.
  • Mature 17+; content is not recommended for those under 17 years and might contain strong language, blood and gore, intense violence, strong language or simulated gambling.
  • Adults Only 18+; content is meant for those of 18 years or older and might contain prolonged graphic violence, full nudity, graphic sexual scenes or real gambling.

PEGI is also very simple and clear and along with age ratings and a traffic light warning system, the system also uses graphical descriptors:

  • Green 3; content is suitable for those of 3 years or older.
  • Green 7; content should not be used by those under 7 years.
  • Orange 12; content is meant for those of 12 years and under.
  • Orange 16; content is not suitable for those under 16 years.
  • Red 18; content should only be viewed by those of 18 years and older.

Graphical descriptors are as follows:

  • Bad Language
  • Discrimination
  • Drugs
  • Fear
  • Gambling
  • Sex
  • Violence
  • In-Game Purchases

Game rating systems have been cleverly devised and are meant to be taken seriously. Just like movies, many games are definitely not suitable for children because of their shocking content. Games such as Manhunt where the player has to hunt and kill people in extremely violent ways are nothing short of plain funny to a mature adult but could be taken seriously by a younger and more impressionable mind.

Video Game Addiction

Of course, violence isn’t the only issue when it comes to video games. More recently, Fortnite was subject to scrutiny after many parents complained that their children were becoming addicted to the game. This led to an official investigation by the World Health Organization who officially ruled gaming addiction as a genuine disorder in 2019. 

One of the main problems with games like Fortnite is that they don’t cost anything to download. “Free-to-play games” as they are known, rely on “microtransactions” for their revenue. These are in-game purchases that provide the gamer with new items to use while playing. It is the pursuit of cool and new stuff that keeps a lot of people playing and this model is currently earning Epic Games (the owner of Fortnite) $5 billion per year.

Some of these transactions include what are called “Loot Boxes” and these are the real meat of the exploitation of gamers by some video game developers. Loot boxes are content crates that are paid for with real money but you don’t know what is inside until you open them. 

The problem with loot boxes is that they promise sought-after rewards with no guarantee of obtaining them and the chances are extremely low, similar to a lotto game. It isn’t uncommon for a gamer to spend hundreds of dollars on loot boxes and still walk away with nothing of value. Because of this, some countries have begun to ban loot boxes after labeling them as gambling.

Setting Parental Controls

Luckily, it is now possible to control your children’s gaming habits whether they like it or not. Game consoles such as Xbox and PlayStation have built-in parental controls that put you in charge of what and when your kids play.

Parental controls include restricted game ratings, mature content filtering, access to chat, purchasing and more.

Xbox One Parental Controls

Xbox One restrictions can be set relatively easily:

  1. From Xbox Dashboard select the ‘Settings’ option.
  2. Next, select ‘Privacy and Online Safety’. 
  3. Then select from generic parental controls or select ‘Custom’ to set your own.

Xbox Series X Parental Controls

Before you can set parental controls for Series X you first need to add your child’s account profile to the parental controls:

  1. Press the ‘Guide Button’ and select ‘Profile and System’.
  2. Next click ‘Settings’.
  3. Then select the ‘Account’ tab from the side menu and then the ‘Family Settings’ button in the main viewer.
  4. Next select ‘Add to Family’ and select the child’s profile.

The child should now be added to the family group and can now be included in any parental controls.

To set parental controls for Xbox Series X, follow these steps:

  1. Press the ‘Guide Button’ and select ‘Profile and System’.
  2. Next click ‘Settings’.
  3. Then select the ‘Account’ tab from the side menu and then the ‘Family Settings’ button in the main viewer.

Parental controls can now be set including web browser restrictions, in-game purchasing and game rating restrictions.

PlayStation 4 Parental Controls

PS4 parental controls can be set easily and the console’s “Family Management” feature adds an extra layer of control.

  1. From the PS4 control bar go to ‘Settings’.
  2. Then select ‘Parental Controls/Family Management’.
  3. Next, select ‘Parental Controls’.

From here you can restrict access to mature content, set spending limits for PS Store and in-game purchases, how long and at what times kids can play and disable web browser access.

Family Management also includes additional features.

Note: the process is the same for PlayStation 5.

Nintendo Switch Parental Controls

Nintendo Switch parental controls can be set but the feature requires the use of a companion app. The app can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store and Google Play.

See here for more information:

Video games have come a long way since their innocent beginnings and many games are intended for mature audiences. While many children play violent games, as a parent the onus is on yourself to monitor and control what your kids access. 

The fundamental issue with doing this is that children are increasingly more tech-savvy than their parents these days and in some cases might even find a way around your controls. The best approach is to actively monitor what they are doing, frequently change passwords and proactively guide your children and explain why a particular game might not be suitable for them.

Game rating systems have been created with parents in mind so you can make an informed decision when buying a game for a child. Use your common sense and if a game doesn’t seem right for your child then don’t purchase it, even if (as is the case with Grand Theft Auto) all the other kids have got it.

About Author

LaDonna Dennis

LaDonna Dennis is the founder and creator of Mom Blog Society. She wears many hats. She is a Homemaker*Blogger*Crafter*Reader*Pinner*Friend*Animal Lover* Former writer of Frost Illustrated and, Cancer...SURVIVOR! LaDonna is happily married to the love of her life, the mother of 3 grown children and "Grams" to 3 grandchildren. She adores animals and has four furbabies: Makia ( a German Shepherd, whose mission in life is to be her attached to her hip) and Hachie, (an OCD Alaskan Malamute, and Akia (An Alaskan Malamute) who is just sweet as can be. And Sassy, a four-month-old German Shepherd who has quickly stolen her heart and become the most precious fur baby of all times. Aside from the humans in her life, LaDonna's fur babies are her world.

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